ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court suspended on Monday the Sindh government’s July 19 notification of raising the minimum wage for workers to Rs25,000 per month, but decided to set up a three-judge bench to hear the matter next month.

A two-judge Supreme Court bench, consisting of Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Yahya Afridi, issued notices to Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Jawed Khan and Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin on a set of appeals moved by a number of petitioners.

The Federation of Pakis­tan Chambers of Commerce and Industry, the Employers Federation of Pakistan, Phoenix Security Service (Pvt) Ltd Karachi, Aziz Tabba Foundation Karachi, Gray Marchenzie Restaurants International Limited Karachi and SRG Service (Pvt) Limited Karachi are the petitioners.

One of the organisations challenged the minimum wage notification with a contention that “ours is a trans-provincial organisation and comes under the federal legislative regime with regard to the fixation of minimum wages and that the Sindh Minimum Wages Act (SMWA) 2015 is not applicable to us”.

Some of the petitioners questioned an Oct 15 Sindh High Court order in favour of the provincial government’s notification while others moved the apex court to become a party in the controversy with a plea that the high court order was affecting them.

A five-page order issued about a Supreme Court hearing that took place on Dec 7 recalled how the petitioners — the Sindh-based organisations — promised that they would make a payment of Rs19,000 per month to their employees with effect from July 1 this year.

Likewise, the “trans-provincial organisations” gave an undertaking that they would pay Rs20,000 per month to their employees from the date applicable and continue to do so until a decision by the apex court.

In case the Supreme Court upheld the SHC’s decision, the petitioners gave an assurance, they would pay the balance amount to their workers.

Upon this commitment, the Supreme Court suspended the Sindh government’s notification till the next hearing.

Abid S. Zuberi, Ayan M. Memon and some others represented the petitioners.

They pleaded that under section 3 of the SMWA, a minimum wage board has been established and a mechanism for fixation prescribed.

The rules require that the board first propose a minimum wage and then submit its recommendation to the provincial government.

The government then publishes a notification in the Gazette under Section 6(1)(a) of the SMWA stating whether it agrees or not with the board’s recommendation. If it does not agree, it refers the matter back to the board for reconsideration.

The petitioners pleaded that the board had recommended a minimum wage of Rs19,000 per month, raising it from Rs17,500.

But the Sindh cabinet raised the wage to Rs25,000 per month without issuing a gazette notification.

Instead, the petitioners contended, a gazette notification was issued on Nov 12 pursuant to the Sindh High Court’s order.

The petitioners argued that although the provincial government was empowered to refer the matter back to the board with its comments, the government does not have the power to itself determine the minimum wage.

In its order, the Supreme Court held that the controversy demanded a thorough review and issued notices to the Sindh government’s labour secretary and the Employers Federation of Pakistan, Karachi.

Notices were also issued to the AGP under Section 27-A of the Code of Civil Procedure 1908 as well as to the Sindh advocate general with a directive to appear before the apex court next month before a three-judge bench.

Published in Dawn, December 21st, 2021

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